Youth and Climate change:The Health Burden of Climate Change, a case of Kenya

By: Vaida Odongo Guest contributor

 Studies have shown that climate change accounts for losses of up to four billion Dollars globally every year. It has resulted in rising sea levels, reduced rainfall, low underground water levels and thinning of the ozone layer which protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. Climate change has been identified as the biggest challenge to the health of the world’s occupants in the twenty first century. Studies show that there exists a relationship between climate change and its effects on the health of human beings.11330015_981890535184739_6695828970971879869_n

Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because most of our investments are those that deal directly with resources. Our agriculture is rain fed and should that fail, we turn to irrigation. We also directly depend on hydro-electric power further putting a strain on our resources. Resource scarcity is a direct impact of climate change and has been found to have a profound effect on the health of the population. Rising earth temperatures means that more rivers are drying up and the underground water levels are also lowering which greatly affects communities living in these areas forcing them to come up with alternative sources of livelihood and survival.

In Kenya, the effects of climate change can be easily seen because of the frequent droughts that hit the Arid and Semi Arid areas. Eighty three percent of Kenya’s land is made up of ASALs with the main source of livelihood coming from animals and animal products. The communities living in these areas are extremely vulnerable and have less capacity to cope with environmental shocks. The ASALs have opened up with many business ventures opening up to tap into the resource base found in these areas. The launching of the million acre project on River Tana was a great move by the government to increase food security and put land that was lying idle under crop cover. However, we still have lessons to learn from areas surrounding Lake Bogoria where a majority of the population are suffering from vector borne diseases such as malaria, rift valley fever and schistosomiasis. This is because the putting up of large areas of land under irrigation saw the rise in mosquitoes. This paints a grim picture for the population owing to the fact that Malaria accounted for 584, 000 deaths of children with statistics from KEMRI estimating that twenty five million of Kenya’s population is at risk of malaria

When the inhabitants are sick, they cannot go to work and need time to recuperate which is an opportunity cost to them. Children also have to stay home away from school because of sickness which affects the quality of their education. The drought also forces communities to resort to diets that may not meet their required daily calorie intake. This is turn causes malnutrition in both children and adults leading to other major diseases because of a weakened immune system.

This situation paints a grim picture, however, there is more that the government can do to ensure that its population benefits more from these business investments. First, the government needs to put in more investment in the renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind energy. There also needs to be more funds injected into research before a project is done so as to know what the potential impacts of starting a project are and strategies put in place to reduce vulnerabilities. There also needs to be advocacy programs to create awareness on the effects of climate change.

 DRAM2066-Edit2-150x150Vaida Odongo is a youth and Gender Expert based in Nairobi Kenya. Vaida has an overpowering passion for mentoring the youth into issues of leadership and climate change. She is the co founder of the Amazing Woman Dialogues which is a mentorship program that trains young women on major areas in life such as personal branding, transformative leadership, sexual and reproductive health among other topics. She hopes to inspire as many more youth as possible to take up initiatives that bring about last change in the communities.